A DAY after images of him clasping hands and sharing the dias with the Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi were flashed on television, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on Monday came under fire from friends as well as foes.
The widely publicised visuals also damaged his plans to win over Muslims in Bihar, crucial to his long-term plans.
The attack against Kumar (58), the most sought after leader this poll season, was led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (76), as voices of dissent were also heard from within his own party, the Janata Dal (United).
The Chief Minister appeared to be on the defensive, as a party MP questioned his move. “I am saddened and surprised by what I saw on TV on Sunday,” said Ejaz Ali, a Rajya Sabha member from the JD (U).
“Nitishji’s work in Bihar had created a positive impression among the minorities, the latest act was completely unwanted.”
Ali said Gujarat’s anti-Muslim riots were unpardonable. “We can’t be seen in the company of those responsible for them.”
JD(U) spokesman, Shivanand Tiwari, however, defended Kumar’s participation in the NDA’s rally in Ludhiana in Punjab on Sunday.
“Our policies and politics cannot be judged by an incident which happened by chance. It was not for our party to decide who were to be present on the dias,” Tiwari said.
Kumar, despite being a part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), had been saying he did not subscribe to the “Hindutva agenda” of the saffron party. Kumar had gone on record recently to say that he would not endorse Modi’s candidature for the prime minister’s post in future.
A day later in Ludhiana, where Modi (58) hugged Kumar on Sunday, prime minister Singh said at a press conference he doubted the JD(U) leader’s claim of being secular.
“There is no doubt that Nitish Kumar professes to be a secular leader. But on Sunday after seeing him shake hands with Modi, a doubt did arise in my mind,” Singh said.
Kumar, who is believed to have told his ally, the BJP, not to send Modi to campaign in Bihar, seemed to have provided ammunition to his rivals, Lalu Prasad (60) and Ram Vilas Paswan (62).
“His secular mask has come off,” Lalu said at a rally in Chandigarh, capital of Punjab. “It was Nitish who had said he’ll bowl out Lalu on zero in the elections, but now by joining hands with Modi, he himself has hit a sixer.”
Paswan targeted the Congress, which had last week described Kumar as a secular leader.
“Those propagating the JD(U) leader's secular credentials need to think twice. Nitish has crossed all limits of opportunism by sharing dais with Modi,” Paswan said.